Kids in the ER: When tiny patients need big care

Posted at 11:10 AM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 11:10:20-04

If a child is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 911. For less pressing but still urgent matters, choose a pediatric emergency room.

You may not have time to go to your preferred hospital — sometimes minutes matter, and you have to go wherever is closest. Given the option, though, it's worth it to take your child, whether you have an infant or a teenager, to a hospital made with them in mind.

Pediatric ERs are designed for comfort

Emergency rooms can be frightening. By nature, doctors and staff are dealing with stressful and sometimes traumatic situations. Those are feelings you don't want to transfer to a child. From the moment you enter a pediatric ER, it will look and feel different from an adult one.

"Nearly 20 percent of visits to emergency departments in the U.S. are for children, yet only 6 percent of U.S. hospital emergency departments have all of the necessary equipment, medications and supplies to properly care for pediatric patients," according to

Additionally, the Goldilocks approach of having things that are sized "just right" help children feel they are in a place they belong.

You can set the tone for your ER visit before leaving home.

"If you come to the ER, stay calm," recommends Emergency Care For You. "Your child will look to you to decide how fearful to be."

The organization also recommends bringing a favorite toy or blanket to help make your child less anxious.

Pediatric nurses and physicians put children at ease

Even something as simple as getting a child to open her mouth or sit still long enough to check vitals can be a challenge, and it's compounded when the patient feels anxious. Pediatric specialists have a few extra tricks up their sleeves when it comes to the way they talk to, hold and interact with young patients.

Because pediatric specialists see young patients all day — and all night — they are experienced in the medical and personal sides of the situation.

"Children have unique health needs," says the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Recognizing and meeting those needs is critical during serious or life-threatening illnesses or injuries."

Pediatric ERs are equipped with child-friendly techniques and equipment

Because of limited experience in medical settings, most children may be unsure and fearful of even common procedures — and that's before someone pulls out a needle. The smallest gestures of comfort are worth it to calm a child.

For children who spend a lot of time in hospital settings, their "frequent flier" status is all the more reason you want them as comfortable and calm as possible. It's especially important for kids who will have to return frequently to the hospital to have a positive experience.

Don't forget about the grown-ups — when children need emergency care, parents are also distressed. Pediatric specialists have special training to work with the child and parent. They have experience in conveying important messages to stressed parents, so everyone can feel better quickly.